What is a career in public affairs?

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From careers in campaign managing to lobbying, the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University has served as a stepping stone for students looking to enter the world of politics. The online curriculum found in the political management program is multifaceted and has enabled graduates to enter fields and disciplines that extend beyond the electoral and public service domain.

Public affairs manager multitasking

One such profession is public affairs. Corporations, trade groups, nonprofits, government entities and private companies are all areas that employ public affairs managers, whose prime functions tend to vary slightly depending on the sector.

What is a public affairs manager? What distinguishes public affairs from public relations? What are the qualities that public affairs managers need to thrive? As it relates to the online political management curriculum, how does a master’s degree prepare professionals for careers in this field?

Read on for the answers to these questions and more. As you’ll see, public affairs and political management have lot more in common than it may initially appear.

What is public affairs?

To work in public affairs is to interact with the public through various means of communication, chiefly written and verbal. Public affairs professionals disseminate information to influence public opinion and policy, according to the goals of the organizations, companies, associations or government agencies they represent. Often, public affairs managers serve as intermediaries, bridging the gap between the people they speak on behalf of and the individuals, groups or affiliations they seek to reach. Public affairs managers must decide — in consultation with other communication specialists — what message will resonate and lead to desired aims. Because these goals often entail policy enactment, public affairs managers frequently associate with people who are in electoral politics.

What distinguishes public affairs from public relations?

On the surface, public affairs managers and public relations specialists seem like they’re one and the same. Both seek to persuade through interaction and relationship building with an objective in mind. They’re also similar in that they each involve activities and strategies related to publicizing.

What makes them different are their overarching goals and the people they hope to persuade. With public relations, the aim is more commercial in nature, establishing an image for the company these professionals represent in as positive a light as possible through various marketing initiatives. With public affairs, because organizational goals tend to be more long-term and applicable to what community members do in their everyday lives, managers often interact with the people who are charged with enacting or implementing policies, be they politicians, legislators, community organizers or committee members.

What skills do public affairs managers need to thrive?

Although public affairs managers and public relations professionals serve different functions in terms of end goals, they utilize many of the same qualities to accomplish their objectives. Here are a few of them:

Interpersonal: Because they are in constant communication with people, public affairs managers should have strong social skills that allow them to better converse with individuals who hold influence. They also must be able to think quickly on their feet because their interactions can help shape strategy.

Critical thinking: Being analytical is a core skill of public affairs managers — getting to the bottom of conditions and trends as they relate to a community, group or society to better understand the political environment. Nonprofits, private companies and trade associations rely on public affairs managers’ ability to think critically to influence policy.

Communication: While much of what public affairs managers do is conversational, their responsibilities often involve a written component. They should have mastery of all forms of communication as well as be able to draft clear and effective press releases.

Multitasking: Changing minds or implementing policies rarely happens overnight. It requires relationships and established trust. Multiple initiatives may occur at once, depending on the political climate and the circumstances of the moment.

How does the online political management curriculum prepare students for a career in public affairs?

The skills taught in the online political management program are tailor-made for working in public affairs, with takeaway skills available in each of the four clusters/specializations: Core, Electoral Politics, Advocacy Politics and Applied Proficiencies. In Fundamentals of Political Management, students learn about crafting campaign messages and how to engage citizens — two key responsibilities of public affairs managers.

In State and Local Campaigns, part of the Electoral Politics cluster/specialization, students discover more about management principles and strategic challenges that can develop in the course of a campaign. Public affairs managers deal with campaigning efforts to build support for a cause, so the principles taught in this course apply even though the content is more electoral in nature.

The Advocacy Politics cluster provides a solid foundation for public affairs managers to effectively deal with issues and make connections with decision-makers. Issues Management, Grassroots Engagement, and State and Intergovernmental Politics provide insight on techniques and methods that leverage influence and achieve organizational agendas.

The Applied Proficiencies cluster is made up of five courses, and each teaches aspects that public affairs managers can use to become better communicators. Digital Strategy, for instance, delves into how to more effectively communicate in an increasingly digitized world, and Audience Research draws connections between campaigning and issue advocacy.

Coffee and laptop placed next to calendar

A public affairs career offers many possibilities, and the online Master’s in Political Management curriculum can help you discover and develop your professional bona fides. Discover your breadth of options by applying for the online program today.

Recommended reading:
What is the applied proficiencies cluster/specialization?
What can you learn from George Washington’s Master’s in Political Management (MPM) core curriculum?